Stage 2 Meaningful Use ONC Rule: What it means for EPs?

Implementing Meaningful Use Stage 2 is the new talking point in healthcare industry these days. Physicians, healthcare centers, hospitals, providers and vendors are all gearing themselves up for Meaningful Use Stage 2 attestation. While some have met the new requirements, there are still a huge number of physicians who are not yet ready to attest for Meaningful Use Stage 2.

The Office of National Coordinator (ONC) has listed down a number of minimum technical capabilities, standards and specifications EHR technologies and Eligible Providers (EPs) must meet to support the latest stage of Meaningful Use.

Let’s go through them one by one.

  1. New certification paradigms: The ONC requires that all the current EHR software must be ready to use Meaningful Use Stage 2 by 2014. They will be required to acquire new certification for it as per the new criteria laid down.
  2. Pricing transparency: All the EHR vendors are required to follow certain price transparency practices related to the type of costs associated with EHR technology implementation for Meaningful Use.
  3. More visibility: The new rules laid down by the ONC also mean that EHR vendors ready for Meaningful Use Stage 2 will be made publicly available. While selecting an EHR vendor, practices and physicians will have a better idea of the vendor’s standing.
  4. More flexibility: Eligible Providers have three new ways under the 2014 ruling to meet Meaningful Use Stage 2 criteria. First, they can purchase a complete EHR software that has been tested and certified on all Meaningful Use measures. Second, they can purchase a combination of EHR modules that perform all the functions needed. Thirdly, they can purchase a single base EHR module that performs only the required functions needed by that EP based upon his/her field of specialty.
  5. More interoperability: The new rule also puts interoperability at the forefront and usage of Health Information Systems (HIE) to improve patient care.

These were a few brief specifications EPs need to meet in order to be able to ready for Meaningful Use Stage 2.


The Road to Meaningful Use – Certified EMR

With the enduring efforts of promoting interoperability by the federal government and health IT vendors alike, we have observed a surge in the adoption of certified EMR across the nation. For some providers, the prime reason for adoption is avoiding penalties, while others view it as a professional responsibility. Regardless of their motives, it would be reasonable to deduce that the utilization of certified EMR technology in practices has raised the bar for the quality of patient care and staff productivity as well. All providers looking to comply with the Meaningful Use objectives must employ a certified EMR. The definition of certified EMR changes with the corresponding stage of Meaningful Use. As of now, we are in Meaningful Use stage one while stage two should begin in 2014.

Stage 2 of Meaningful Use requires the use of patient portals in order for providers to qualify for the apportioned incentives. The fundamental reason for the government’s focus on the use of patient portals is for the improvement in health management for patients. Once the patient feels involved, the level of satisfaction he/she experiences increases as well. As a result, there is better coordination between patients and physicians ensuing in a lot of time and hassle being saved for both.

According to a recent report published by KLAS, more than 50 percent of all clinics and hospitals varying in specialties nationwide have implemented patient portals in their practices. Moreover, this statistic is improving by the day. The current figure strongly indicates the sensitivity of physicians towards their patients’ needs along with a willingness to comply with the Meaningful Use guidelines. The final precept of stage 2 in regards to patient portals mandates that a minimum of five percent of a provider’s patients have to be active on their portal in order for the provider to qualify for their share of incentives.

Given the aforementioned benefits and the overall response of the physician community across the U.S. towards the use of certified EMR and patient portals, we can conclude that the implementation of this technology substantially improves practice efficiency and patient health management. The results may require time to become evident; slowly but surely, we are witnessing the benefits which are inherent to the use and utilization of health IT.


Patient Portals – A Patient’s Perspective

Patient portal is a web based application which allows patients to communicate and interact with their physicians and healthcare providers. Due to the benefits of this technology, it’s gaining more popularity amongst patients nationwide by the day. Numerous redundancies in the healthcare industry are bypassed by employing patient portals. Adopting this technology enables you to enhance your practice efficiency as it allows secure access for patients to their health information from anywhere at any time. As a result of this capability employees at any practice can save a significant amount of time spent on a patient’s record.

Forms which otherwise have to be filled out manually in the doctor’s office requiring the physical presence of the patient may now be done electronically through a patient portal. Some of the benefits to the patients via this technology are listed below.

Educational Content – Clinicians may address their patients on various health related concerns which would have a more direct and personal impact and educate them.

Online Messaging – Patients have a quicker and easier approach for getting in touch with their physicians via a patient portal. Instead of reaching them physically or over the phone at odd hours, a patient can simply leave a message for their doctor and get a response very quickly.

Schedule Online – Patients can now schedule appointments online through their patient portal which is much simpler than the conventional method of scheduling an appointment. Patients can view the available time slots of their physicians and may schedule a time which is convenient for them.

View Lab Results – Lab results may be easily viewed online in the software eliminating all the hassles otherwise.

Information Updates – Patients may update any demographic changes in their records as well as any changes in their insurance through the portal.

It’s very easy to see the appeal in such a platform for patients; moreover, it is practical for the healthcare provider as well. Patient Portals apart from helping practices complying with meaningful use policies are very advantageous for clinicians and patients alike. The bottom line which translates through this innovative solution is that it’s saving time and money for both patients and doctors.


Health Information Exchange – Where Are We Headed

No doubt the inclusion of information technology in the healthcare industry brought the game changing Electronic Medical Records (EMR) technology, along with secure sharing and exchange of health information across various platforms, more commonly known as health information exchange (HIE). It was always believed that the purpose of providing quality and affordable care along with improving the conditions of the US healthcare system could be significantly aided by incorporating HIE within the EMR continuum. One can imagine the ease with which quality healthcare could be provided if important health information can be transferred across various platforms with relevant people.

While health IT consultants and regulatory bodies could give a long list of advantages that EMRs and HIE could bring to the healthcare industry, the question remains is the adoption rate as high as expected? According to recent research, approximately 71% of the hospitals in US are planning to implement EMR solutions that comply with health information exchange. As the technology keeps on improving, soon the implementation rates are likely to touch 100%.

“Information technology is one of the best things that could happen to the healthcare industry. The way IT has revolutionized healthcare, it could be easily said that in the coming years EMRs and other health IT applications are likely to be seen in almost every practice. I believe, after stethoscopes physicians would also treat EMR to be essential”, says a New Hampshire based health IT consultant.

The importance of HIE could also be comprehended by looking at the meaningful use stage 2 requirements. The objectives in stage 2 encourage physicians not only to use EMR but also to ensure that their solution allows for information exchange. This is one of the very reasons why regulatory bodies have been working on creating standards for HIE implementation. It is believed that a portfolio of standardized guidelines would allow physicians to comprehend the requirements and understand the implementation procedures in a much more efficient manner.

Realizing the requirements and keeping the concerns of physicians in mind, even established EMR vendors are creating solutions that ensure HIE. As the introduction of cloud EMR helped them capture the market share, incorporating HIE would further enhance their chances of attracting more potential clients.


Patient Portal – Helping Patients Along the Way

Recently, during a discussion with my colleague I found out some impressive facts about patient portals. Over the last few years, patient portals have been completely transformed; no longer are they merely considered to be simplistic communication tools that allow physicians and patients to interact. In fact, these web based portals have come a long way to become a multi-purpose solution for patients. While EMR and practice management systems are meant to facilitate physicians on both clinical and administrative workflow management respectively, patient portals are programmed to provide patients with details regarding their entire clinical journey.

“Once the clinical and non-clinical procedures are completed, all information related to the patient in made available on the patient portal. Patients can simply login and view it online or even download it if they want. This has actually helped abate the gaps that existed in ensuring better care connectivity”, says a New Hampshire based physician.

Let’s talk about each of the clinical, administrative, and financial aspects individually. Patient portals enable patients to instantaneously access their lab results and the details of other treatments that the individual has undergone. This allows them to generate queries about their concerns and even verify the treatment details and get educated on a particular test or procedure. In a nutshell, patients have the liberty to access their health records from anywhere at any time. Hence, it would not be absurd to say that patients have an option to review their clinical summaries without having to visit their physicians in person.

“I consider patient portals to be one of the many means through which care connectivity is improving. Besides providing basic health related information, physicians also help patients get educated on various diseases and treatments”, says a Nebraska based health IT consultant.

Today, realizing that time is of essence, established vendors have provided patients with the option to streamline their administrative tasks on their end through patient portals. The finest portals allow patients to schedule appointments while sitting at home, without making prolonged phone calls, requesting prescription refills, fill in their medical histories, demographics etc before they visit the provider. Patient portals also provide physicians with their billing details. From providing the insurance details to co-pays, patient portals provide an analysis of all the major as well as minor financial details to the patients – allowing them to verify if the basis of bill generations is legitimate or not.

Therefore, one can easily establish that patient portals have become all-in-one solutions for patients. And with the passage of time, health IT would have a lot more to bring to the table.